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SpaceX's emergency escape plan for astronauts was just tested successfully

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NASA described it as a test flight "unlike any seen in Florida since the days of Apollo," but for anyone watching the live stream, the SpaceX test looked pretty serene. SpaceX's uncrewed Dragon capsule was blasted into the atmosphere with just a few seconds of rocket burn before it executed its abort sequence. First, the spacecraft's trunk was jettisoned, and then a succession of parachutes were deployed, dropping the capsule gently into the Atlantic ocean just a few thousand meters off the shore of Cape Canaveral.

the next step is testing the system in-flight

The "pad abort" test lasted only a few minutes, but it paves the way for the launch of a Dragon capsule carrying humans into space. If something goes wrong with a rocket launch carrying actual astronauts, then the abort system tested today will hopefully get them out of harm's way quickly. SpaceX, along with Boeing, were awarded contracts from NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station in September last year. Think of it as the equivalent of an emergency eject system in a fighter plane — but for the whole crew capsule, not just a single seat. The next step for SpaceX will be an in-flight abort test, which will put the same system through its paces further into a simulated launch.

ISS Video: Time lapse video of Earth from the International Space Station